Sheryl Sandberg Addresses the Need for Resiliency in Commencement Speech

We are amidst graduation season – a time for celebrating the hard work and effort put into the last four (or more) years in preparation for entering the working world. In her commencement speech to the University of California Berkeley, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, congratulates her audience on their accomplishment in graduating from such an acclaimed institution but primarily offers a lesson in resiliency.

Speaking to the new alum of such a highly regarded university, and to the future leaders of the business world, Sandberg knew her audience didn’t need advice about hard work, but rather guidance that would enhance their likelihood of success – a lesson that would take them much further than just hard work could take them alone.

Resiliency has been a resonating theme in Sandberg’s career and is ultimately what has led to her immense success. Her ability to remain optimistic in her endeavors, to see the opportunity in negative situations, and to face obstacles head on by overcoming hurdles that had never been overcome before are all prime examples of her exceptional resiliency as documented in her book, “Lean In”. But in this commencement speech, Sandberg publicly spoke for the first time about a new form of resiliency she was forced to harness.

Last year Sandberg experienced the loss of her husband while on vacation in Mexico. According to Sandberg, “For many months afterward, and at many times since, I was swallowed up in the deep fog of grief — what I think of as the void — an emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even to breathe.”

“Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.”

“I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that today, as you take the next step in your life, you can learn the lessons that I only learned in death. Lessons about hope, strength, and the light within us that will not be extinguished.”

The majority of us do not escape a lifetime without experiencing grief and hardships. This grief can affect our personal and professional lives if we allow it to, and without proper training and awareness, we are much more likely to be taken under by such grief. Training in resiliency gives us the tools to work through the difficulties that are present in our lives.

Whether your company is facing a merger or acquisition, or an individual that you manage just experienced a traumatic event in their personal life, training in resiliency can enhance your company morale as well as their likelihood of bouncing forward from the situation and remaining or returning as a productive employee. Resiliency training can decrease turnover and enhance employee engagement and effectiveness. An investment in your employees is an investment in your company.

According to Sandberg’s speech “The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days — the times that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”

In her final words to the 2016 graduating class, Sandberg makes a plea to build resiliency.

“Class of 2016, as you leave Berkeley, build resilience.

Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.

Build resilient organizations. If anyone can do it, you can, because Berkeley is filled with people who want to make the world a better place. Never stop working to do so — whether it’s a boardroom that is not representative or a campus that’s not safe. Speak up, especially at institutions like this one, which you hold so dear. My favorite poster at work reads, ‘Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.’ When you see something that’s broken, go fix it.

Build resilient communities. We find our humanity — our will to live and our ability to love — in our connections to one another. Be there for your family and friends. And I mean in person. Not just in a message with a heart emoji.

Lift each other up, help each other kick the shit out of option B — and celebrate each and every moment of joy.

You have the whole world in front of you. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.”

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